Thursday, October 24, 2013

"STAR TREK VOYAGER" RETROSPECT: (5.06) "Timeless"

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"STAR TREK VOYAGER" RETROSPECT: (5.06) "Timeless"

The 100th episode of any television series is usually regarded with special interest - especially by television critics. Not all TV series go out of their way to write a special episode for that particular landmark. But many do. The producers of "STAR TREK VOYAGER", Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, along with screenwriter Joe Menosky, went out of their way to write a special story celebrating the series' 100th episode called (5.06) "Timeless"

The last time I watched "Timeless", it occurred to me that it reminded me of a movie filmed over a decade ago called"FREQUENCY". Both the television episode and the movie featured time travel. Yet, in both, no character participated in any real time travel. In "FREQUENCY", radio frequencies enabled an adult man in 1999 communicate with his father, living in 1969. The writers of "Timeless", which aired nearly two years earlier, utilized Seven-of-Nine's personal Borg components (her interplexing beacon and chronometric node), and a stolen Borg temporal transmitter and later, the holographic Doctor's mobile emitter; to allow an older Harry Kim to communicate with the U.S.S. Voyager crew, 15 years into the past. How did this all begin?

Back in 2375 - early Season Five - Voyager's crew created their own Quantum slipstream drive in order to finally return to the Alpha Quadrant and home. While the crew celebrates, Chief Helmsman Tom Paris informs his friend, Operations Chief Harry Kim that the device might prove to be disastrous, due to a 0.42 phase variance in the drive's system; which could create hull breaches for Voyager and knock it out of the slipstream in mid-flight. To save the project, Harry suggests that two crewmen in a shuttle could "ride the rapids in front of Voyager" and map the slipstream threshold as it forms and transmit phase corrections back to Voyager. The corrections would compensate for the phase variance, preventing a catastrophic collapse of the slipstream. Captain Kathryn Janeway, desperate to get home, agrees to the risky proposal. Harry and Commander Chakotay travel in the newly built Delta Flyer to map out a flight path for Voyager. After Seven-of-Nine reports a phrase variance, Harry quickly calculates the corrections and transmits them back to Voyager. Unfortunately, the correction proves to be the wrong one and Voyager gets knocked out of the slipstream and crashes on an icy Class-L planet with all hands dead. Meanwhile, Harry and Chakotay continue traveling in the slipstream, until they reach the Alpha Quadrant and Earth.

Fifteen years later, both men, haunted by Voyager's destruction and their survival, eventually resign from Starfleet. Harry has discovered what he believes is the right phrase variance to save Voyager. When Starfleet discovers a Borg transmitter, the former ensign and former First Officer Chakotay steal it. With the help of Chakotay's girlfriend Tessa Omond, the pair travel to the sector where Voyager crashed, board the ship, activate the EHM and take Seven-of-Nine's frozen corpse to their ship. Harry and Chakotay asks the Doctor to remove Seven's interplexing beacon and chronometric node, so they could use the objects and a Borg transmitter to send the correct phrase variables to the former Borg fifteen years into the past.

When Brannon Braga first pitched the episode to cast member Garrett Wang, he stated that he wanted "Timeless" to be the show's TOS - (1.28) "The City on the Edge of Forever". Did he and Rick Berman succeed? I think so. If I must be honest, I consider "Timeless" to not only be one of the best "STAR TREK VOYAGER" episodes I have seen, but also one of the best that the entire TREK franchise has offered. Although it is not the only production that has used communication as a means of time travel, it is the first I have come across. If there has been another television episode or movie that has used communication, instead of physical time travel, I would like to know. But this aspect of time travel is not the only reason I find "Timeless" first-rate. This is a beautiful, bittersweet tale filled with desperate hope, tension, close calls, disappointments and remorse over past mistakes. 

Although characters like Chakotay, the Doctor, Captain Janeway, Tom Paris and Tessa Omond played major roles in this tale, "Timeless" really belongs to the character of Harry Kim. In an article I had written a few years ago, I stated that Harry's conservative nature led him to behave in a by-the-book manner, until his emotions drove him to rock the boat. I was being kind. Harry has a nature that is so conservative and by-the-book that when things go wrong, he tends to have a breakdown . . . a fit. I have seen this happened not only in "Timeless", but in a few other episodes as well. In this episode, Harry's "fit" eventually morphed into a bitter, sardonic and obsessive personality. In the 2375 scenes, I could not tell who was more obsessed about returning to the Alpha Quadrant - him or Captain Janeway. And in the 2390 scenes, his obsessive personality - mingled with some bittersweet self-flagellation - focused on his efforts to correct his earlier mistake.

It was easy to see what drove Harry to change the timeline and save Voyager. I had a little more difficulty in figuring out what drove Chakotay to do the same. What drove him to resign from Starfleet and make himself a fugitive from Federation law by stealing a Borg transmitter and the Delta Flyer? It was easy to see that despite a new life with a loving girlfriend by his side, Chakotay could not recover from Voyager's destruction any more than Harry could. Being a more subtle man, he did not wear his despair and guilt on his sleeve. His tour of Voyager's frozen Bridge and especially his reaction to the sight of a dead Kathryn Janeway made it painfully obvious that he remained haunted by the ship's destruction, his initial reluctance over Harry's plan to use the Delta Flyer as Voyager's guide through the slipstream, and especially his captain's death. Even girlfriend Tessa pointed out that his heart has always been more focused on Voyager than on her.

"Timeless" featured some first-class performances. Although most of the cast gave their usual competent performances, there were some that stood out for me. Kate Mulgrew did an excellent job in conveying Captain Janeway's willingness and near desperation to use a questionable plan for Voyager's trip through the slipstream. Robert Duncan McNeill gave a subtle performance as a more serious Tom Paris, who harbored doubts about the effectiveness of the Quantum slipstream drive constructed by the crew. Robert Picardo proved to be the episode's backbone as the holographic Doctor who was not only amazed to find himself online some fifteen years in the future, but also proved to be a voice of reason for the increasingly erratic Harry Kim. Christina Harnos gave a nice, solid performance as Chakotay's 2390 girlfriend, Tessa Omond. And LeVar Burton, who did such a marvelous job as director of this episode, also gave a nice, solid performance as Captain Geordi LaForge, the 2390 version of the "STAR TREK NEXT GENERATIONS" character, sent by Starfleet to stop Harry and Chakotay's attempt to change the timeline. However, the two performances that really shone above the others came from Garrett Wang and Robert Beltran. Wang gave one of the best performances of his career and during his time on "STAR TREK VOYAGER". He did an excellent job in portraying an older and bitter Harry Kim, who is not only guilt-ridden over Voyager's fate, but desperate to correct his mistake. Beltran was equally impressive in a less showy performance as a haunted Chakotay, who tried to move on with a new life and failed.

"Timeless" never made my list of top favorite episodes from the TREK franchise. However, it almost made the list. But I do believe that not only is it one of the best "STAR TREK VOYAGER" episodes ever made, but also one of the best from the entire franchise.

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